By Carol Stender
At 82, Wes Schallock of Vining is not an idle man.
If he’s not making five-and-a-half mile walks near his Vining home, Schallock hits the treadmill. He doesn’t make the outdoor walks consistently, he said; but he enjoys time in nature.
Walking and the outdoors have been a lifelong pursuit for him. He has hiked the Appalachian Trail twice and, in his first jaunt, he hiked from Hertford, N.C. to his 30-year class reunion in Parkers Prairie, Minn.
He added canoeing to his ventures in the 1990s and traversed the Mississippi River from its Itasca State Park headwaters to Venice, La., with other canoe trips along the Minnesota and Missouri Rivers. And his adventures continue. Each fall he returns to the Appalachian Trail, where he hikes with one or two of his daughters, he said.
It’s quite a legacy for this Vining farm boy who joined the National Guard and served in the Coast Guard from 1958 to 1985. Although he served at 14 different locations during his Coast Guard years - from the Great Lakes to Alaska and three years in Italy - most of his work was behind a desk, he said. For his exercise, Schallock walked, often taking 30-mile walks, or he’d jog.
But when he retired from the Coast Guard, he wanted to do more.
His opportunity for adventure came in 1987 when he learned his 30-year high school class reunion was set for that summer. He decided to attend and that he’d hike to the event from his Hertford, N.C. home to Parkers Prairie.
Schallock mapped his route and started the hike in April.
“It was pretty demanding,” he said of the hike.
The hike was his first and he was prepared with backpack, supplies and good walking shoes. He thought he was in good shape and planned to hike 12 hours a day. No problem.
Then he started out. He left at 6 a.m. from his Hertford home and finished around 4. His shoes were tight after the long haul that day so he loosened his shoelaces. He didn’t take them off, however, which was a good thing. His feet had swelled.
“If I would’ve taken my shoes off, I wouldn’t have been able to put them back on,” he added.
Schallock took five to six days off from hiking to rest his feet and ankles, and, once he started back on the trail, found them acting up once more. He took another day or two to rest, then continued his journey. His ankles didn’t bother him again.
What did he learn from his experience?
“You have to adapt to the situation,” he said. It was a lesson he lived out many times in his adventures.
While on this journey, he crossed the Appalachian Trail and became intrigued by it.
“I had the time to do the hike,” he said of the Appalachian Trail. “I thought it was a challenge and I wanted to see if I could do it.”
He had just graduated from East Carolina University when he hiked the trail for the first time. He did it again two years later. While both of those hikes were solo ventures, he continues to make the jaunt each fall with one or two of his daughters.
When he first hiked the trail, there were few if any people on the path. Now, the Appalachian Trail has grown in popularity and he often meets other hikers.
What did he learn from those hikes?
“You have to keep going,” he said. “When you hike like that, there are no hotels along the trail to spend a night or a laundromat to wash clothes. If you are caught in a rainstorm, that night you get your tent ready and change from the wet clothes to the dry. In the morning, you have to put the wet clothes back on. It takes determination. And, when you think you can’t go any further, you stop and think of all the miles you’d have to cover to get back to your starting point. You realize it’s easier to go forward. So you move forward.”
In 1996, he challenged himself with a different adventure. Schallock chose to canoe the length of the Mississippi River from its headwaters at Minnesota’s Itasca State Park to Venice, La. It was his first canoe trip.
He packed his camping gear, used in his hikes, in the canoe and set off. Journals of his trip include his bouts with bugs which swarmed around the canoe. Storms were another challenge of the trip. One of those turned almost deadly.
It was at the beginning of his Mississippi River trip, right around Lake City, when he saw a large black cloud. He started paddling towards shore, but it was too late. Suddenly he was besieged with four to five foot waves and 50 mph winds.
“I had made a serious mistake when I first saw this storm, instead of putting on my life jacket ... I was swimming. The sudden wind flipped me and my canoe like a matchstick. Everything was adrift, including me, and as I never envisioned capsizing, nothing was tied to my canoe. When I hit the water, it was a shock, especially when I saw my life jacket floating about 10 yards from me. Now it was decision time...what to do, leave my capsized canoe and swim for my life jacket and hope I reached it before the wind and waves blew it out of my reach or stay with my canoe? The decision had to be made immediately.”
He stayed with the canoe. It was a lifesaving decision, but was not made without trepidation at the time.
Schallock hung onto the canoe from around 10:30 a.m. that morning until about 1:30 p.m., he said. And in that time, as waves crashed around him, as he watched his possessions drift away, he wondered if he would die.
“I guess one of my first thoughts was, ‘well, is this the way it’s all going to end?,’” he wrote in his travel journal. “I also experienced a feeling of disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to finish my trip; other thoughts were that I had a pretty good life and was thankful for it.”
He thought a lot about his wife and children and realized how much he loved them and wanted to see them again.
But the thought of death never frightened him, he said.
He was able to get to shore once the storm passed and, much to his surprise, he found someone who’d recovered his wallet and backpack.
Unlike during his hiking trips, Schallock often saw and talked to people along the river. He stopped in the towns along the way and spent nights in hotels where he could rest and gather supplies.
He describes going through the river’s lock and dam system. He talks of paddling through calm waters and stormy ones.
Through all of his travels, his interactions with the people he’s met along the way have been positive.
“People were always interested in my trips,” he said. “They were helpful and kind.”
He recalls the numerous barges he saw along the Mississippi River during his trek. At one point, he heard someone on a bullhorn asking if he wanted coffee. He realized one of the barge captains was talking to him. He pulled up alongside the barge and climbed aboard the vessel.
They didn’t have coffee, but he enjoyed the water they offered and biscuits with marmalade.
In 1997, his grandson, Matthew Walker from Michigan, joined him for a canoe trip on the Minnesota River from North Dakota to the Mississippi River. His grandson was 14 then and didn’t care much at the time for the adventure.
“While he didn’t appreciate it at the time, I think he’s probably changed his mind since,” Schallock said.
Through all of his experiences, Schallock says he’s learned he has more “stick-to-it-ness” than others may have.
“It’s just a matter of how bad you want to accomplish something,” he said. “You have to have the will to finish.”